So after listening to Joe and Brenden raving about Pokémon Sword/Shield— as well as the rest of the internet– I finally decided to buy Pokémon Sword. Besides a few months of Pokémon GO, this was my first ever foray into the world of collectible monsters. I was in college when Pokémon blew up, and with my limited gaming time during that period I was limited to Madden, Tony Hawk, and Grand Theft Auto. Although I am enjoying my time with the game, I feel like there’s something I’m missing. Is it nostalgia for the series that’s fueling the defenses of this game or am I just out of the loop?
I’m constantly sifting through comment sections, tweets, and Discord banter with people constantly defending this game, but at the same time from a newcomer’s perspective it feels like this game is ten years old. Especially for the first mainline Pokémon game to reach a home console, I’m really confused by all of the “free passes” this game gets. To someone who knows what a Pikachu is but doesn’t have a history with these worlds and creatures, it feels like the foundation of people’s love for Sword/Shield is laid upon nostalgia.
As I said at the top of the article, I am enjoying my time with the game so far, but that’s not without some glaring issues for me. Pokémon Sword/Shield is far too easy. I’ve seen people rebut this by saying it’s a game meant for children, but I assumed it would be a little more challenging than spamming razor leaf with my Grookey. Not every battle is that simple, but so far I’ve felt as though I haven’t had to aggressively adapt to my opponents.
The narrative is pretty lackluster. I don’t find myself caring too much about the characters or plot, and coupling this with the lack of voice acting is not only out of place since most big budget games have voice acting, but makes clicking through unappetizing dialogue seem like more of a slog than it could’ve been if I wasn’t furiously pressing buttons to skip through.
For such a big world, Pokémon Sword/Shield feels entirely too restrictive. There’s little room for exploring and the progression felt all too linear. The gym battles felt poorly constructed and more annoying than enjoyable, with battles that seemed to rely on the bombastic climax of a Dynamax battle that felt more like a gimmick than something that actually brought any challenge or pleasure. Even with the Wild Area, I couldn’t help see an empty world even with random Pokémon running around. Even the raid battles that were scattered throughout the Wild Area seemed to offer minimal challenge.
Even though I am spending my time pointing out what I don’t particularly love about Pokémon Sword/Shield I still am finding some pleasure. I’m 38 years old, so maybe I am just aged out of this experience, or without the nostalgia to back it there’s something I can’t grasp. But regardless, if a game can’t succeed without a player having nostalgia, I think there’s a flaw in that design. I think most of my enjoyment is resting on the fact that this is my first real Pokémon experience, but I believe Game Freak played this first dive into consoles far too safe. Outside of rose tinted nostalgia glasses, I struggle to see why so many people vehemently defend this game’s shortcomings. Hopefully the next installment on Switch is a more fleshed out, modern approach that doesn’t scream 3DS game to me or else this might be my first and only dive into the world of Pokémon.
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